10 lessons every entrepreneur has to learn


This is a story about you, my lovely. Pay attention to what you say, “Well, duh” to – those are the lessons you’ve already learned, and well done.

And pay double attention to the ideas you violently recoil from – those are lessons that will be coming, I promise.

1. Keep moving or die.

Like sharks, businesses have to keep moving forward.

That means that every week that you spend just getting through your work is actually a bad week.

No matter how frantic your inbox, you constantly need to be planning and working toward the next thing.

2. There are far fewer rules than we think.

In my opinion, there are really only three vital rules for business.

  1. Create something of value.
  2. Find people who appreciate the value.
  3. Sell it to them at a price commensurate with that value.

That’s it.

A colleague of mine told me recently about someone in the wellness industry who charges $30,000 for one session. And while that makes my brain go wobbly, I realise that all that says is that TO ME the value and the price are not aligned. To that practitioner and her clients, the value is clearly worth the price.

So they pay it. And (presumably) they get more than $30,000 of value from their session. So they’re both happy.

And that’s the point of exchanges.

Extra note: it’s the buyer’s assessment of value that matters. You, who can easily create the thing you’re offering, will never ever value it as highly as them. So ignore you, and listen to them.

(Are my rules missing something? Tell me in the comments.)

3. There is a big enough audience for you to do the work you want to do.

How many buyers do you need?

Ten a month, maybe, if you’re a coach.

A hundred a month, possibly, if you sell goods.

You know how many people have an internet connection and speak the same language as you? Let’s use a woefully underestimated number: 400 million.

Say it aloud: 400,000,000.

Four hundred million.

As long as it passes Rule #1, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling: there will be enough people to buy it.

You still have to find them. But they are out there, looking for you.

4. It’s really not about you.

I got a piece of criticism lately that filled me with pity, because it was so very clearly not about me. It was about the person who wrote it, and their experiences, and how they felt. I was nothing more than a big white sheet on which their views could be projected.

But this is also true for every bit of praise.

5. Eventually, you have to leave the beaten track.

You can’t follow in Cinderella’s footsteps and get her results: there’s only one prince, and Cinders has already married him.

To succeed – instead of just doing sortakinda okay – you need to blaze your own trail.

Thus, there will always be a point where you abandon the wisdom of all of your mentors and inspirations.

Good mentors will encourage this – rip-off artists will tell you that you’re doomed if you go your own way.


6. Money isn’t evil.

Money is a form of power, and all power is morally neutral.

What we do to obtain that power, and how we use it? That’s different.

But you are in charge of your actions. Money isn’t the devil that made you do it.

You are.

7. Consistency is vital.

  • A business isn’t built in one offering.
  • A marketing campaign does not happen in one tweet.
  • One testimonial does not a recommendation make.
  • You don’t build a following from one amazing post.

Because we can all be magnificent sometimes.

It’s consistent magnificence that builds your reputation, your business, and your bank account.

8. Self-care is NOT optional.

The single biggest capital investment in your business is… you.

Many of us threw away the user’s manual and decided that we could run indefinitely with no maintenance at all.

9. Start wide, then narrow down.

When you’re entering a new endeavour, say yes to every (legal) suggestion.

  • Guest post? Sure.
  • Custom offering? Heck yeah!
  • Meetup? Why not?
  • New client? Bring it on!

But as you learn, as you experience, as you realise that large business clients are a giant ball of suck, or people who ask for six revisions are actually going to need twenty… then you start adding filters.

Filters like:

  • I should never do client sessions after lunch.
  • No clients who will debate endlessly. Get it done or GTFO!
  • I don’t touch Adwords.
  • Only invoice people who we’ve worked with before. (Except Sofie.)
  • Natural fabrics only.
  • Three revisions max!

These filters have two purposes: they save your sanity, and allow you to start targeting in on your absolute best work.

Love them, respect them – every single horrible client experience you have ever had is due to inadequate (or ignored) filters.

10. Your business will be as sane as you are.

Sane, well-adjusted people build sane, well-adjusted businesses.

Crazy people build crazy businesses.

When things go awry, sane businesses struggle. Crazy businesses fold.

11. The bonus lesson

Tell us one more vital lesson you’ve had to learn. Bonus points if you have one that I’ve haven’t learned yet…

Good news, lovelies: since I was incapacitated by illness and exploding computer last week, I’ve decided to keep the doors open for Cash and Joy Foundations for one more week, AND bring back the four-payment option. So if you are sick of having a love-hate relationship with your business and are ready to ROCK IT THE HELL OUT, then sign up today!

Creative Commons License photo credit: eriwst

24 thoughts on “10 lessons every entrepreneur has to learn

  1. I would add – Respect your Bank Balance – that number never lies.

    Spend less than what you have, and when your bank balance grows spend some money on what your business needs

  2. Nasty, important lessons. The lesson on filters is something I’m constantly relearning. I’d add a caveat to that: tweak and retweak filters based on the evolution of both you and your biz. Don’t assume that just because your filters worked a year ago that they’ll work this year. You (and your biz) might be completely different.

    1. I am *hearing* that. I keep hoping there will be a point where I never, ever forget that lesson, but it hasn’t happened yet. I get better at it each time, though. #nomorecakeforbreakfast #regulardancingbreaks

  3. Rule #11 … stop comparing yourself to others in your field!  I recently stopped looking at other people’s work and I feel better for it!!!

    I love Ainslie’s rule … live within your means.  Seriously the only way to get ahead and they should teach it at school!

    Catherine … I hated the ‘self care’ rule … because I suck at it.  At least I’ve been conscious of it for a while, though, and am taking steps to rectify said situation 🙂

  4. I’m late to the game, because I kept saving this in my reader (like all your posts 😉 ) but here goes…my additional rules: 

    11. Change happens. It is no use being mortally embarrassed by it and it is probably also a little weird. Very few, if any, people will judge you for changing and those that do are not worth your time. 

    I especially like rules number four and five. I’ve learned those myself! 

  5. As always, this is super well-timed for me (even though I’m reading it DAYS later).  I struggle pretty hard with the comparison thing, though. I’ve always been one of those people who looks around to a lot of sources for cues then compiles them into something workable for themselves.  I’m still not sure how to break out of that and forge some brave new path for myself that’ll make a glimmering biz shine out loud.

  6. 11. Whatever it is that’s keeping you up at night is nowhere near as bad as you think it is.

    Stuff will go wrong no matter what you do, it will sometimes be painful and embarrassing, but you will survive, as long as you choose to.

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